Education committee discusses tuition, Indian education

BISMARCK—A bill that would put the Legislature in charge of setting tuition rates at the state’s public colleges prompted a close vote on Monday.

The House Education Committee voted 8-6 to give House Bill 1470 a do-not pass recommendation.

Rep. Bob Hunskor, D-Newburg, said there’s a lot of information that goes into determining rates, and legislators would need to turn to the people doing it now for guidance.

Rep. Joe Heilman, R-Fargo, said the Legislature already has mechanisms to put caps on tuition. Legislators don’t have time to be in charge of setting tuition, and there are more qualified people to help give legislators recommendations, he said.

However, Rep. David Rust, R-Tioga, said he thinks it’s the Legislature’s responsibility. Rep. Brenda Heller, R-Beulah, agreed, saying the State Board of Higher Education has been portrayed as being in a tree house in a big tree while legislators are on the ground.

“That’s what bothers me. We always get blamed, and they’re up there in their tree house making the rules,” she said. “It’s almost like they’re untouchable. If they would be a board that would be elected by the people, I might have a different opinion.”

Rep. Phil Mueller, D-Valley City, said he thinks higher education got the message of the bill.

The bill will go to the House for a full vote. 

Indian education

The committee gave a do-pass recommendation to an amended bill to study Indian education issues.

House Bill 1049 instructs the superintendent of public instruction to study these issues to develop criteria for grants to low-performing schools.

The study would look into the extent to which governance and collaborative models—including agreements with tribal governments, the Bureau of Indian Education and the state—have on improving student achievement.

The study would also look into whether success models are available, as well as if federal, state or local barriers exist that prevent schools and students from performing at high rates of achievement.

The bill requests $25,000 for the study and requires matching funds. The bill will go to the House for a full vote.

Senior citizens

A bill aimed at getting older North Dakotans into college classrooms has a do-pass recommendation after an age change.

House Bill 1385 would allow North Dakota residents age 65 and older to attend any undergraduate class at the state’s public colleges without paying tuition and fees.

They also would not have to demonstrate the academic achievements normally required of students.

These students would need to pay for books and supplies and would earn academic credit through the program. However, the ability to join a class would be limited to if there are open seats remaining after regularly-admitted students sign up.

The program would not apply to online classes.

According to the University System, increasing the age from 55 to 65 would mean a minimal financial impact on the system, Rep. Lisa Meier, R-Bismarck, said.

The bill will go to the House for a full vote.

Dalrymple presents budget address

BISMARCK—Property tax relief, more money for infrastructure needs in oil country and improvements to college campuses are among the funding priorities that Gov. Jack Dalrymple outlined in his first budget address today.

Dalrymple presented his speech in the House chamber before state lawmakers, members of the public and statewide elected officials.

The 2011-13 executive budget was created with input from the state Office of Management and Budget, cabinet agencies and the Governor’s Office.

“Together, I believe we have produced a budget for the people of North Dakota that is farsighted and pragmatic, a budget that will continue to lead our state forward,” Dalrymple said.

The “overarching message” of the budget is to fund priorities, provide tax relief and build reserves for the future, he said. Here’s a breakdown by topic area:

Infrastructure in the west

Under Dalrymple’s proposal, $958 million would be allocated to benefit the state’s 17 oil and gas producing counties. Of that, $371 million from the permanent oil tax trust fund would be for state, county and township roads in oil country.

The state Department of Transportation would set the priorities for the $229 million for state roads, using the same procedures normally used for needs, Dalrymple said.

The $142 million for county and township roads will be distributed according to a comprehensive study recently finished and with input from the DOT, Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple recommends an emergency clause for the county and township funding so projects can begin.

Dalrymple also proposes $100 million for the Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund. Right now, this fund has an $8 million cap per biennium and is funded with money from the 5 percent gross production oil tax.

Money goes to political subdivisions negatively affected by oil and gas activity. Most of the funding is used for infrastructure repair and improvement projects.

The Energy Development Impact Office received $31.9 million in grant requests this year for the $4 million available.

Office of Management and Budget Director Pam Sharp said there would need to be a change in law to raise the cap on the fund and revise the tax formula.

Dalrymple said he’d like to see $35 million of the amount go to the largest and fastest growing cities. The remaining $65 million would be for smaller cities, counties, townships and other entities.

In addition, other state funds that benefit oil and gas counties through oil tax collections are expected to reach $247 million.

Dalrymple also said $240 million in regular state and federal highway funds “that would happen anyhow” is budgeted for the Williston, Minot and Dickinson DOT districts.

This includes “super-two” construction on U.S. 85, he said.

“This region of North Dakota is doing its share to build North Dakota’s economy, and we need to do our share to help them with their challenges of growth,” Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple also proposes allocating $25 million for the Williston region for a new municipal water supply system.

 

Infrastructure in the east

“In the Red River Valley, flood protection is an essential, long-term priority,” Dalrymple said. “We need to end the annual anxiety caused by chronic flooding, especially in the Fargo-West Fargo area.”

Dalrymple reaffirmed the state’s commitment of about $300 million over 10 years for a flood diversion project.

The budget sets aside an additional $30 million from the Resources Trust Fund for a total of $75 million in initial funding, he said. This trust fund receives money from oil tax revenue and is used to construct water-related projects and to fund energy conservation programs.

For Devils Lake, Dalrymple proposes committing up to $120 million to construct a second outlet on the east end of Devils Lake, expand the existing outlet on the west end and build a control structure on Tolna Coulee.

Not all of that money—which will also come from the Resources Trust Fund—would be allocated during the 2011-13 biennium, Dalrymple said.

As far as infrastructure needs elsewhere, Dalrymple said he’s “not completely ignoring everyone else” and “understands needs in other areas.”

“We feel that the regular highway fund appropriation can cover all of those needs,” he said.

Dalrymple proposes dedicating 25 percent of the state motor vehicle excise tax to the state highway distribution fund, so an additional $46 million is available for roads. Of that, $17 million would flow directly to counties, cities and townships, he said.

Property tax relief

Dalrymple proposes $350 million go toward property tax relief and $150 million for income tax relief. This would bring the total tax relief from 2009-13 to $900 million.

“It is important that the hard-working men and women of North Dakota see a substantial share of our economic gains reflected in their tax bills,” Dalrymple said.

For a family making between $60,000 and $80,000 with a $150,000 home, overall this would mean between $750 and $850 in savings in property and income taxes per year, Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said.

K-12 education

Dalrymple, chairman of the state’s Commission on Education Improvement, is supporting $102.3 million in increased funding for K-12 education.

This includes $54.3 million to complete school funding adequacy. There is also $32 million to increase the per-student payment by $100 each year of the 2011-13 biennium.

Dalrymple also proposes $7.5 million be set aside for school districts interested in creating an alternative teacher compensation system. An additional $8.5 million is proposed for transportation, principal mentoring, early childhood education and other initiatives.

Higher education

Dalrymple proposes an increase of $82 million in ongoing funding and $46 million in one-time funding for the 11 colleges of the North Dakota University System.

This should allow tuition at two-year schools to be held even and four-year schools to limit tuition increases to no more than 2.5 percent per year, he said.

Dalrymple supports five major capital projects for the University System, including a joint University System/University of North Dakota information technology facility.

The other projects are the Rhoades Science Center addition and renovation at Valley City State University; funding for the Stoxen Library at Dickinson State University; the final phase of the research greenhouse complex at the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station in Fargo; and the Old Main renovation at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

Dalrymple said he also allocated $5 million for a new approach to higher education funding based on desired educational outcomes. For example, this could look at degrees awarded, students graduating on time and degrees completed by low-income students, he said.

Dalrymple said the plan is to ask the State Board of Higher Education to work with him to establish a new Commission on Higher Education Funding. The group would work to develop recommendations to improve the equity, transparency and effectiveness of higher education funding.

Dalrymple also recommends higher education salary increases of 3 percent each year of the biennium. However, 1 percent of each year will be devoted to the teacher fund for retirement, he said. The state would match the 1 percent and fully fund the increase in employee health insurance, he said.

Youth and human services

Dalrymple said he welcomes legislation regarding a tiered or graduated driver’s license program. He also spoke of the headlines about teen suicide rates.

“These highlight the need to make more resources available for critical mental health services for our citizens,” he said.

The budget recommends an increase of nearly $8 million across several agencies to address the mental health challenges in the state.

This includes $6.1 million for the Department of Human Services to fund psychiatric in-patient care, additional local resources to help stabilize patients suffering a mental health crisis and more resources to treat chemical dependency, he said.

He also recommends $1 million for suicide prevention efforts by the state Health Department and an additional $100,000 to help fight youth suicide on reservations.

The budget includes $900,000 for campuses and high schools to help address mental health problems among students.

Long-term care and public employees

Dalrymple proposes a 3 percent increase each year of the 2011-13 biennium for nursing homes and other health care providers, as well as for providers serving people with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

He also recommends a 3 percent salary increase each year of the biennium for public employees and fully funding the increase in public employee health care premiums.

The numbers

The total budget is $9.3 billion, said Sharp of the Office of Management and Budget. The breakdown is roughly one-third general fund, one-third federal funds and one-third special funds, she said.

The general fund ongoing revenues for 2011-13 are projected to be about $3.197 billion, with $3.185 billion in expected in spending.

Dalrymple said the budget recommendation represents an increase of 5.6 percent in spending per year. However, he said it’s important to note that more than half of the increase is due to reduced federal funding in human services that the state needs to replace.

Excluding the $174 million in discontinued federal funding, the increase in general fund spending is 2.7 percent per year, he said.

The 2011-13 executive budget neither borrows nor bonds and imposes no new taxes or fees, Dalrymple said.

The latest projections show the state ending the biennium on June 30 with a $1 billion surplus: $80 million left in the general fund, $620 million in the permanent oil tax trust fund and $325 million in the budget stabilization fund. However, money can only be spent from this last fund if there’s a revenue shortfall.

The executive budget anticipates a $1.2 billion state surplus by June 30, 2013. Of this amount, $619 million is expected in the Legacy Fund. In the November election, North Dakota voters approved the creation of the fund, which will be supported with oil tax revenue.

State lawmakers will spend the coming months of the legislative session hashing out the budget before it is finalized.

Legislative week ahead

The Higher Education Committee and Higher Education Roundtable members will meet Monday and Tuesday in the House Chamber. Monday’s agenda begins at 9 a.m. CT and includes out-of-state speakers discussing higher education funding.

There will also be discussion regarding potential goals and expectations of the North Dakota University System, including methods to measure success in achieving the goals.

Tuesday’s agenda begins at 8:30 a.m. CT. The meeting includes roundtable discussion regarding higher education topics discussed at previous Higher Education Committee meetings.

There will also be a presentation by a representative of the University System of the 2009 Accountability Measures Report.

Also Tuesday, the Administrative Rules Committee meets at 9 a.m. CT in the Roughrider Room of the state Capitol. The meeting includes presentations by the Attorney General’s Office, State Gaming Commission, state Health Department, Game and Fish, the Board of Pharmacy and the Public Service Commission.

On Wednesday, the Workers’ Compensation Review Committee meets at 9 a.m. CT in the Harvest Room of the state Capitol. Meanwhile, the Taxation Committee meets at 9 a.m. in the Roughrider Room in the Capitol.

On Thursday, the Energy Development and Transmission Committee meets at 9 a.m. CT in the Roughrider Room in the Capitol. Also Thursday, the Judicial Process Committee meets at 9 a.m. CT in the Harvest Room in the Capitol.

Full meeting agendas can be found at www.legis.nd.gov/council/interim/meetings.

Today’s story 2

BISMARCK – North Dakota lawmakers spent part of a Monday meeting expressing their frustration with the state university system while others defended it.

Higher Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, said he feels a need for change in higher education and said there’s public frustration about increasing costs and lack of accountability.

Skarphol said there may need to be a group created similar to the K-12 Commission on Education Improvement that addresses improving higher education.

“To simply add more money to continue to do what we’ve been doing and hope for different results is not good enough in my mind,” he said. “We need to change the culture somehow, both in the Legislature and in the higher education system altogether.”

Sen. Dave Nething, R-Jamestown, cautioned against indicting everything in higher education. He said the concerns he hears are specific to the construction of the presidents’ homes at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota.

“I really would hate to think this committee wants to come out and say that higher education is all gloom and doom because I don’t think it is,” he said.

Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, expressed concern about the spending requests for major capital projects at the state’s campuses. The North Dakota University System presented lawmakers with a list of 12 projects totaling $108 million.

“Where does it stop? Every session, this is what we get. It’s just more and more,” Dosch said.

Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, said issues with capital improvements are being allowed to drive the agenda.

“We have failed to provide focus on all of the good things that are happening in the system. Those things never get the press,” he said.

Chancellor Bill Goetz said much of what has driven the university system in recent years is accountability measures created by legislation. He said the university system needs the support of lawmakers and hopes future meetings can be approached as a community working together.

Also Monday, legislators heard an update about the statewide longitudinal data system. The goal is to track students’ educational progress over time to improve educational processes and programs, said Lisa Feldner, chief information officer for the state Information Technology Department.

Nething said 30 percent of incoming college students need remedial education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math. He wondered whether information gathered in the system would help identify the school districts where these students originate.

Lawmakers also heard an update on UND’s RuralMed program. Eight incoming freshmen medical students who sign up for the program can receive a full tuition waiver for four years of medical school if they practice in rural North Dakota for five years after completing residency training.

However, thus far, three students have signed up, said Joshua Wynne, dean of the medical school. Discussions have found students are interested but are leery of committing before they’ve had an opportunity to experience more schooling, Wynne said.

He told legislators he’d like to see the program modified so empty slots can be offered to students closer to completing the program who are thinking more seriously about career choices.

The Higher Education Committee will meet again next month to continue discussion of potential legislation.

Today’s story 1

BISMARCK – The North Dakota University System will ask lawmakers for $108 million this coming legislative session to fund a dozen major capital project priorities at the state’s campuses.

But some lawmakers Monday questioned how much support there would be for the wish list.

Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Laura Glatt presented the interim Higher Education Committee with the list of projects. These include:

$17.6 million for a joint North Dakota University System/University of North Dakota information technology facility.

$10.8 million for the Rhoades Science Center addition and renovation at Valley City State University.

$8.2 million for the Old Main renovation at the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

$28.9 million for a health sciences facility addition for UND’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

$12.5 million for an Energy & Environmental Research Center office and lab addition in Grand Forks.

Glatt said the state’s colleges and universities were asked to rank their priorities, which were also analyzed by the university system.

Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, said he thinks there would be little Senate support for the projects if the same list had campus names and communities deleted, thereby neutralizing legislators’ loyalties to certain schools.

“It lacks vision and inspiration to take us to the next level,” he said of the list.

Flakoll said some of the projects are good, but he wanted to see more projects that would help generate new wealth and business and diversify the economy.

He asked to see objective information of how the priorities’ rankings were created.

Glatt said there “isn’t a lot of glamour” on the list, but the projects help with health and safety issues.

Chancellor Bill Goetz defended the projects, saying the Rhoades Science Center facility is “terrible” and “not conducive to quality learning.” The health science facility is part of a major initiative that the university system and the medical school are undergoing, he said.

The Rhoades Science Center dates to the 1960s and isn’t built for what’s needed today in science and technology, said Trudy Collins, vice president for business affairs at Valley City State University. The ceiling heights are also too low to allow proper ventilation, she said.

Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, said there isn’t economic justification for the projects or a cost-benefit analysis.

“If we’re going to spend $10 million, what’s our return on this?” he said, adding he wanted to know things like how many students would benefit.

Dosch said one of the frustrations with higher education is the continuous spending.

“We just keep building and building and building. We’re not maintaining what we’ve got,” he said. “When does this stop, and how much money can we spend? I think we have a duty and a responsibility to the taxpayers.”

Dosch requested a summary of how much money has been allocated for construction the past three legislative sessions and the total amount of deferred maintenance.

Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, said legislators should visit the campuses to see for themselves the condition of the requested projects. He said he knows projects like the Rhoades Science Center and Old Main need renovation.

Goetz said sustainability is as much of a concern for the university system as it is for lawmakers.

“The stewardship of the North Dakota taxpayer dollar is really very, very important and critical,” he said.

Glatt said the university system will go through each of the projects and provide more cost-benefit information to legislators during the legislative session.